Archive 2

28/12/97 Cover Girl from first to last

18/10/97 The Consistent Story Of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

18/10/97 Everyone has a prize, its size depends on how hard he tries

26/10/97 Oh, to be a fly on the Mall

31/8/97 Are you ready for the world?

17/8/97 In New York, instead of shopping with Zoe...

8/7/97 Current Account and the Future Draft:
People's bank stays relevant 25 years on

8/7/97 Millennium plan for bank of first choice

25/5/97 World has turned, but have we?

11/5/97 In the end, it is all just a matter of time

13/4/97 Time not spent with others, life not shared

30/3/97 In Xiamen the day after Deng died

Saturday, October 18,1997
The Straits Times : Life Section Page 3

Everyone Has A Prize, Its Size Depends On How Hard He Tries

Human nature

PEOPLE are not equal. This is the kind of blunt and brutal statement which Mr Lee has never flinched from saying out loud, even when it goes against popular, conventional thinking.

In the '60s and '70s, the populist idea of the equality of men held sway in both Western democracies and communist countries.

The collapse of the communist system has demonstrated clearly that equal results for all as a policy simply does not work.

And in the last 30 years, research in the related fields of evolutionary psychology, sociobiology and evolutionary genetics have shown testable results that appear to bear out Mr Lee's ideas on human nature.

Everyone has his own unique genetic makeup, with its own limitations. These limitations cannot be improved by circumstances, however favourable.

Everyone is born preprogrammed, like a CD with a set number of songs. Circumstances can change the order of the songs being played, the sound level? loud or soft?and, if unfavourable, can even distort the music.

But circumstances cannot change the pre-programmed CD into another one with a different set of songs or sound quality.

In the past, the assumption was that a person was like a blank CD which, under the most favourable circumstances, can be made to record the best songs with high-fidelity sound. Hence, all persons should be given access to those favourable circumstances. Nature does not matter, nurture is all.

But nature has been shown to be paramount. Nurture is no less important, insofar as it provides the best conditions for a person to become the best he can be.

A person's genetic makeup also predisposes him to certain illnesses. To use Mr Lee's unsentimental words, "it's all in the luck of the draw". You make the best of what you have, and be the stronger for it.

Different races also have their own different strengths and weaknesses, shaped by the collective memories of their communities which have, in turn, been shaped by many things, including climatic conditions.

As Mr Lee points out, when Buddhism spread from India to China and Japan, it was adapted to suit the make-up of the people.

Hence, the difference between the Mahayana branch of the chopstick countries of East Asia and the Hinayana branch practised in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.

"In Hinayana, suffering is something to be escaped from, but in Mahayana, there is developed the idea that in suffering there is meaning," according to Beatrice Lane Suzuki, wife of D. T. Suzuki, who was instrumental in spreading Buddhism to the West in the '50s and '60s.

Zen Buddhism, the main stem of the Mahayana branch, stresses discipline and has a certain Japanese quality about it, as Mr Lee had observed in the Japanese temples he visited.

The end of order

THE breakdown of order in the West has been studied by many thinkers, from both the Right (like Daniel Patrick Moynihan) and Left (like Christopher Lasch).

Now Francis Fukuyama, the academic who hailed the End Of History, has come out with a new book, The End Of Order (1997), based on his guest lectures in Oxford.

His contention, like Moynihan's and Lasch's, is that the undermining of the family and marriage is central to social breakdown.

He believes that social norms are not just constructed socially, but have their starting point in human nature (that is, biology).

In the last 30 years, approximately from 1965 - 95, advances in medical technology - birth control and abortion - permitted women for the first time to control their reproductive cycles.

More women have also entered the labour market and enjoyed pay increases relative to men's.

These two factors have weakened the norm of male responsibility.

A man, whose biological investment in parental care is low, compared to a woman's, no longer has to limit his fertility to one woman. He can choose not to marry a woman he has made pregnant.

In the US in the '50s, up to 60 per cent of brides at the altar were pregnant, and their bridegrooms coerced into marriage, usually by the brides' relatives. Men were supposed to provide for their families financially.

But since the '60s, the woman can opt for abortion or support herself and her offspring without a husband on her own earnings, or through the welfare state.
The weakening of the norm of male responsibility has also reinforced the need for women to arm themselves with job skills so as not to be dependent on men who may turn out to be unreliable.

The result is that a whole generation is growing up without fathers to socialise them, a generation that, figures have shown, is more prone to educational failure, violence and crime than its predecessors.

So, what works?

THIS has become the credo of both Messrs Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in presiding over their post-ideological societies.

They are governing from the "radical centre", and are fighting to restore the norms of the family as the starting point in their goals to bring back order and restraint to their countries.

If the collapse of Marxism really marked the end of history, and democracy has triumphed, then the US and Britain should not be beset with the kind of serious problems that their leaders are now tackling.

Democracy obviously has its own shortcomings like any other ideology. And just as obviously, it cannot be imposed on any other country as the only way to run a society, as human rights groups have advocated in a manner bordering, ironically, on fascism.

As Patrick Kennon, who has done an extensive study of world politics as a CIA researcher, says in his book The Twilight Of Democracy (1995): "It should not surprise us that the NICs are only able to industrialise under authoritarian regimes; it instead should surprise us that they are often able to do it more humanely?and more democratically?than their first world predecessors."

The human rights advocates may not want to be reminded of it, but the US and Western Europe became industrialised under conditions of limited suffrage massive political corruption, miserable working conditions and widespread policestate tactics against labour, and systematic destruction of the environment.

Media role

I WRITE as a beneficiary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's leadership. I write, too, as someone who has been in the print media for the last 23 years.

The media can choose to help a society get organised especially now in a time of great change, or undermine and unravel its institutions in the name of press freedom. I have chosen to see my role in the former.

The media have civic duties, more so if they are monopolies. Press freedom is a relative term. I am not persuaded that the Singapore media should model themselves after Murdoch's or Time-Warner-CNN's empires, which are global monopolies in their own way.

The greatest freedom an individual can ask for is to be allowed to actualise his fullest potential?be the best he can be.

In Singapore, he is actually encouraged to, but with no glossing over the hard fact that there must be others better than he is, no matter how hard he strives, just as there are others who will never be as good as he is.

People are endowed by nature differently. But, if he strives, if he is disciplined and shows enterprise, he gets a prize. How big the prize depends on how well his society has performed against other societies.